Today you'll finally learn what are honestly the best car seats for 3 year old. This list is especially adapted for traveling, so you won't end up with some massive gear, impossible to drag to the airport.
I was sick of people giving me advice and not knowing what was indeed the best for my child. So I sat down and went through official recommendations, found the most trustworthy brands (Graco, Safety 1st, Evenflo, etc.), compared the weight and portability, and finally designed this list.
Enjoy, and be sure you're in the right place!
Table of Contents
- Best Travel Car Seats for 3 Year Old - My Top 8 Favorites
- #1. Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness - Best Car Seat For 3-Year-Old
- #2. SureRide Convertible Car Seat - The Lightest Car Seat for a Three-Year-Old
- #3. Ride Safer Travel Vest Gen 5 - The Best Child Restraint Vest
- #4. Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible Car Seat - The Most Compact Car Seat For a Three-Year-Old
- #5. Cosco Finale DX 2-in-1 Combination - The Most Affordable Car Seat for Toddlers
- #6. Evenflo Sonus 65 Convertible Car Seat - Honestly Comfortable Car Seat for A 3-Year-Old
- #7. Safety 1st Jive 2-in-1 Convertible - Fit Three Across
- #8. Evenflo Maestro Sport Harness Booster - Incredibly Lightweight
- What Do You Need to Consider When Finding the Best Travel Seat for a 3-Year-Old?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
Best Travel Car Seats for 3 Year Old - My Top 8 Favorites
The reason why I have chosen this seat, especially as the top pick on my list is the love I have for Graco baby equipment. Over the years, I have witnessed nothing but quality with their car seats, and I would honestly recommend them to anyone!
With more than sixty-five years of presence on the baby gear market, Graco offers nothing but convenience, quality, and safety. What is more, they genuinely have the best offer when it comes to convertible car seats, producing 2-in-1, three-in-one, even 4-in-one models.
Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness is a lighter model intended for toddlers and preschoolers. I find it particularly handy for traveling because of its lightweight design, affordable price, and high adjustability.
You'll see how vital these things are the first time you carry the car seat from one vehicle to another, check it at the airport and drag it with you everywhere you go.
You get a three-in-one Graco car seat for a hundred dollars, consisting of a harness booster, high back booster, and backless booster. What does this actually mean?
Well, a harness booster is, in fact, a forward-facing car seat that can accommodate kids from twenty-two pounds in weight to sixty-five pounds. A high back belt-positioning booster is for older kids weighing between thirty and one hundred pounds, while the backless booster supports kids from forty to one hundred pounds.
Now, the 5-point harness uses a SimplySafe Adjust System that allows you to adapt the harness's height and the headrest in only one motion. The headrest can be adjusted between five different positions, and the seat has an open-loop belt guide that helps you position the seatbelt correctly.
The adjustability of this seat comes in handy for two main reasons: it adapts as your child grows and you can install it correctly in different vehicles.
Given that this Graco model weighs only 14.97 lbs and is approved for aircraft use with the harness, it is excellent for traveling and flying. It was rigorously crash tested to meet and exceed the federal safety standards.
When I was looking for a travel car seat, the most important thing for me was the portability. I was hoping to find a seat no more than 10 pounds in weight, but it seemed like an impossible mission. Then I found this SureRide Convertible Car Seat, only 9.80 pounds heavy.
This convertible car seat comes from Evenflo, the oldest car seat manufacturer on the market with more than 100 years of experience. It is the combination of a rear facing car seat suitable for infants from five to forty pounds and a forward facing harness car seat for children from twenty-two to sixty-five pounds in weight.
I love how easy to adjust this seat is.
The harness is front-adjustable and highly accessible so you can secure your toddler snugly with zero effort. Also, the harness can be adjusted among six different positions, which allow more accurate accommodation. I love this feature because in the past, and it was a hell adjusting it correctly as my child grew.
But, despite its really low price, this is one honestly high-quality seat. It has upgraded protection with three layers of energy-absorbing foam and side impact protection that lowers the chances for injuries inside crashes by 50%.
You'll love that super-soft, durable fabrics can be removed and washed in a machine, so you can always keep the sheets super-clean and fragrant. The cup holder can also be detached to create more space in compact cars or airplane seats.
Since I mentioned airplanes, this convertible car seat is also FAA-approved, so you can safely use it when flying. However, do bring the instructions with you to prove that the seat is approved since one woman reported a problem at the airport with this model because it did not have the FAA-approved stamp.
The only thing I don't like about this seat is no booster mode. If your child is three years old, it can ride in a booster seat in a year or so, so you might need to buy one.
According to official recommendations, three-year-olds should be secured in a rear facing child restraint system (if possible) or an adequate forward facing child restraint system. I most certainly agree with the official recommendations, and I advise everyone to follow them.
On the other hand, when you need a child restraint system for traveling, it is not wrong to consider more portable but still safe solutions, such as a Ride Safer vest.
Now, the problem with this vest is that many parents think it is not federally approved. Well, you know what? It is! This child restraint system is completely legal and federally approved in the US. More about it, you can read on this link.
Now, Ride Safer vest comes in three different sizes: small, large, and extra-large. Small size is approved for kids from three to six years old and 30-65 pounds in weight. The vest, itself, weighs barely 2.4 pounds, so I think it is the most convenient solution for traveling.
You know that toddlers aren't allowed to use a seat belt only because it does not protect them adequately in traffic. With Ride Safer Vest Gen 5, the seat belt becomes optimized to protect your kid perfectly. It repositions the lap belt below the abdomen and shoulder belt away from the neck.
The vest can be installed either in a shoulder-lap belt mode or lap and tether belt mode. Either way, if properly installed, it is perfectly safe for use and provides adequate protection to your kid.
Most importantly, the Ride Safer Travel Vest is tested and certified to meet all the FMVSS 213 safety standards. However, this restraint vest is not FAA-approved yet, so you can only use it for your road trips.
If you decide to buy this child restraint system, I advise you to watch some of the instructional videos available to make sure you can install it correctly in your car. Also, bear in mind that this vest is not recommended for kids under 3 years of age.
Another critical segment you should care for when buying a travel car seat is the size. Compact car seats are primarily intended for small cars, but they come in pretty handy in the narrow airplane aisles, taxis, and rent-a-cars.
This Safety 1st is the best car seat with the compact design you can buy for your three-year-old when traveling. I love it because it is honestly durable yet small and pretty portable, so the transport won't be much of a hassle.
The seat has a 5 point harness, adjustable from the front, so you won't struggle with the installment and adjustments. It features two modes: rear facing and forward facing, yet the rear facing mode is available longer, until your little one gains forty pounds, to be precise. According to the official recommendations, this is excellent because kids are the safest in a rear facing car seat.
As I have previously mentioned, adjustability is critical.
This Safety 1St seat has an adjustable headrest, removable pillows, and five harness heights with three buckle positions. This means you'll adjust the seat in minutes to fit your child perfectly. Simply remove the pads for your 3-year-old to use it.
I know you care about safety, so rest assured because this seat has a side impact protection and meets the federal safety standards. It can also be used on aircraft, and since it comes with a forward facing harness, you will be using it until your little one gains sixty-five pounds.
I mentioned the compact design previously.
Namely, the seat was designed to fit three across, so it will definitely fit any taxicab or rent-a-car. Yet, it weighs 15 pounds, which is acceptable but not ideal. Honestly, I expected it to weigh less since it is pretty small. But I guess it only testifies that it features a sturdy design with a solid construction, so it's not a big deal.
Finally, the price is more than affordable, so it definitely pays off to have one of these waiting for your big trip.
If there's one brand manufacturing the best car seats for traveling, It's Cosco. Their seats are simple, lightweight, compact, and more than affordable. Importantly, you don't have to stress about safety because they meet all the federal safety standards.
So, my honest advice to all families on a budget is to avoid buying some sharp-looking, cheap-built stuff; instead, go with Cosco. It does not cost much, but it's reliable.
In particular, this Cosco seat is a convertible booster with a 5 point forward facing harness that transforms into a belt-positioning booster. The forward facing mode supports children from thirty to sixty-five pounds in weight, while the booster mode is for kids from forty to one hundred pounds in weight.
It is pretty convenient because you will be able to use the seat once your child turns four and can ride in a booster seat safely.
You'll love this seat because it weighs only 11.5 lbs. You can carry it around with little to no effort. Plus, its slim design enables you to fit three across the back seat of one car.
As I already mentioned, this Cosco convertible booster seat features a pretty simple design. It incorporates premium fabrics that can be washed in a machine. Additionally, it includes two cup holders you can also detach and clean or remove to create more space in your car.
Cosco's final convertible booster seat meets or exceeds the federal ASTM and JPMA standards and is FAA-approved. I would definitely buy one of these seats for travel purposes, yet, I don't think this seat is the best choice for everyday use.
It would be a good idea to buy one of these, simply to have them for traveling when you need a portable, lightweight seat.
All in all, this is one solid car seat for a 3-year-old. For less than sixty dollars, you get a year warranty, so it's a pretty good deal.
As you can notice, there will be more than one offer from Evenflo. I can say they have the widest variety of products available for a whole range of prices, and I can always find something worthy of attention. For example, this convertible is honestly lightweight but pretty functional and safe, so I would most certainly recommend it for traveling.
Namely, this car seat is the combination of a rear facing and forward facing child restraint systems. The rear facing mode can be used until your little one gains forty pounds, while the forward facing mode can protect your child for up to 65 pounds.
The seat weighs 11.5 pounds, precisely the same as the Cosco booster seat I previously discussed. I'd like to mention that this is one of the lightest car seats you can find on the market. Yet, despite its low weight, the Evenflo Sonus has a reinforced frame that guarantees high durability.
Like the other Evenflo modes I reviewed, this one has a central, front-adjusting harness with six different shoulder harness positions. This makes the seat pretty adjustable and easy to install. In just a couple of steps, you'll fit your little one perfectly.
Additionally, the built-in air ventilation system along with plush head and body cushions keep your kid comfortable and relaxed in summer while warm in winter. You can remove the fabrics for washing and keep the seat clean under all circumstances. I love this because kids, at least my little rascals, always make a mess, and if the seat isn't machine-washable, you'll struggle a lot with the washcloth.
Evenflo Sonus offers more expensive car seating and prolonged use in every phase. Therefore, I would recommend this seat even for everyday use since Evenflo is on the market for a long time and found ways to make their seats lighter without compromising the quality.
Here, I selected another car seat from Safety 1st, pretty similar to the other seat from this brand I included. However, it is never wrong to have more choices so you can find exactly what you're looking for. When it comes to weight, it is moderate, not too heavy, not too light, but it features a super-compact design.
The seat is a combination of a rear facing and forward facing car seat with a weight limit of sixty-five pounds. To be precise, the rear facing mode can be used for kids from five to twenty-two pounds in weight. On the other hand, forward facing mode supports kids from twenty-two to sixty-five pounds.
The seat incorporates a side impact protection, so your kid is perfectly safe in the case of an accident or crash. It weighs 14.5 pounds, a bit less than the other Safety 1st model I included.
When it comes to design, it's a typical Safety 1st design with removable pillows that provide comfort and extra support to your infant and can be removed as your child grows. The harness can be adjusted from the front and has three buckle positions and five heights.
Once again, the fabrics are perfectly safe for your kid's skin and machine-washable, dryer safe too. It also includes two removable cup holders that prove quite convenient for long trips when your child needs their water or drinks close. But since you can remove them, you can also create additional space in the back.
I recommend this car seat model for smaller cars and airplane use since it features a fit-three-across design that takes up less space than standard car seats, so you'll fit it almost anywhere.
I don't like that there is no booster mode since these convertible car seats are more for infants to toddlers than 3-year-olds in development. Yet, the official recommendations advise keeping your 3-year-old in a forward facing harness seat, so it will serve you well for now.
At last, after a few convertible car seats, we get back to another harness booster convertible. I couldn't get past Evenflo again, so I decided to review their Maestro Sport Harness Booster. I honestly hope that after reading this article, you'll realize how incredible this brand is.
I even think it is a bit under appreciated because of the famous car seat brands such as Graco and Britax. But, in fact, despite the lower price ranges, Evenflo products are just as good.
This model includes a forward facing harness booster and belt-positioning booster seat. The harness booster is intended for kids weighing between twenty-two and fifty pounds, while the high back booster is for kids 40-110 pounds in weight.
Like on other high-quality car seats, the harness on this booster is central, adjustable from the front, so you can quickly adapt the harness straps for a perfectly snug fit. Plus, the handy shoulder belt guide helps you position the seat belt adequately in seconds.
Car seat pads can be removed and washed in a washing machine, while two cup holders can also be removed and cleaned.
What I like the most about this harness booster is the honestly lightweight design. Believe it or not, it weighs less than ten pounds. It means transport to the airport, taxi, or wherever will be a piece of cake.
Notably, the seat meets federal safety standards and is FAA-approved, so you can use it while flying with your 3-year old. The seat has been tested for side-impact and rollover crashes, so don't worry about unpredictable situations.
Bear in mind that this Evenflo car seat is one of the lightest car seats for 3-year-olds with an incredible weight limit, so you will be able to use it even when your kid turns four and more.
Since it costs less than $100, I would definitely consider it, as it exhibits excellent quality, proven safety, and lightweight design.
What Do You Need to Consider When Finding the Best Travel Seat for a 3-Year-Old?
If you're here, I guess you're confused about the best car seat for a 3-year-old. We've all been there! I was so frustrated when I was supposed to buy the first child restraint system, boy; it drained my energy. Luckily, I've mastered the matter over the years, and now I am ready to pass on the knowledge.
Namely, you can find the official recommendations on the NHTSA page. There are many useful tips and tricks, but you'll need some time. Also, the state laws regarding car seats differ. So you want to check the state laws for the country you are interested in here on our page.
If you don't have time for going through the extensive federal recommendations, keep reading, I will explain it concisely.
A newborn needs to be secured in a rear facing, federally-approved child restraint system and remain there until at least one. However, the rear facing car seats are the safest child restraint system, and you should try to keep your kid there until he/she exceeds the upper weight and height limit.
Forward facing car seats are the next step in child restraint systems. They are allowed for kids at least once. Nonetheless, it would be best if you waited until they exceeded the rear facing system's limits, which happens around two or three. So, officially, forward facing car seats are the federally approved child restraint systems for three-year-olds.
Booster seats should not be used until your child is at least four, but try to delay the transition from a forward facing seat to the booster seat for as long as possible.
Now, in my reviews, you will find booster seats. But, don't get confused because they are, in fact, forward facing car seats since they have a 5 point internal harness, and they are entirely safe for your child.
When it comes to installment, here are some useful videos you can watch:
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of a seat should a 3-year-old be in?
According to the official NHTSA recommendations, a three-year-old should be in a forward-facing seat with the internal harness straps.
Namely, kids should stay in a rear facing position for as long as possible, so If your 3-year-old still does not exceed the weight and height limits of a rear-facing seat, keep them there.
Yet, the most common practice shows they transition to the forward-facing car seat around 2 or 3.
Can I put my child, three years in age, in a booster seat?
A 3-year-old should not be in a booster car seat unless it is a forward facing, harness booster. Booster seats are recommended for kids four years old and up.
The only case when you are federally allowed to place your 3-year-old in a booster seat is if he/she exceeds the weight and height recommendations for a forward-facing seat you have.
How do I keep my 3 year old in his car seat?
You should seat your kid correctly in the child restraint system and buckle him/her up tightly, using the internal 5 point harness.
Here is a good video you can watch:
And that's it!
I shared all the things I know about travel car seats for 3-year-olds. I hope you figured out the essential features when you're looking for a car seat for traveling or when you want to fit more than one seat in one car.
As you could read in my extensive reviews, to my mind, the best car seat for a 3-year-old is the Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness.
- 3 in 1 harness booster helps protect your child, from toddler to youth; harness booster (22 to 65 pounds), high back booster (30 to 100 pounds), backless booster (40 to 100 pounds)
- Simply Safe Adjust Harness System adjusts the height of your harness and headrest in one motion; one hand, 5 position adjustable headrest easily adapts for your growing child; Buckle may be cleaned...
- Engineered & rigorously crash tested to meet or exceed US standard FMVSS 213; the Nautilus 65 has been side impact tested for occupant retention solely with the built in 5 point harness system
- Open loop belt guides properly position vehicle seat belt across child; seat pad, body support and harness covers are comfortable and machine washable
- Dual cup holders help keep your child's drink close; lightweight, portable seat is ideal for busy, active parents
With this toddler car seat, 3 year old is entirely safe. It comes from a reputable manufacturer, includes an internal harness, does not weigh too much, and can be adjusted.
What else is there to look for?